50 shades of drivel.

Dear friends,

I’m going out on a limb here for more reasons than I will enumerate, with the Top 2 being 1) I’m more comfortable being a cheerleader than a critic and 2) I love a bandwagon as much as the next blogger even though this particular one makes me cringe, but . . . I spent the last few days reading the book pictured above.

Let me for the record state I didn’t buy said book (thank god). Friend handed all three to me and said “Enjoy!”

Let me for the record state I have never read a bodice-ripper in my life, so I’m not familiar with the romance genre and therefore have no context by which to evaluate this title. If you are a romance fan (or maybe I should say erotica fan . . . are they two different genres or simply two ends of the spectrum?) I invite you to enlighten me.

Let me for the record state I had no idea what the book is about because I’m primarily a non-fiction gal and I hadn’t picked up on the buzz.  I think I had heard the word “porn” used about this book, but I had not heard “BDSM.” So, yeah, I walked in blind.

But now let me state this: I know good writing when I see it and I’ve seen (savored, actually) volumes of it in my lifetime. I like to think I’ve even strung together a decent phrase here and there. I was NOT shocked by the sexually explicit narrative. But I was absolutely floored that such horrid writing, meager characterization, ridiculous dialogue, bad grammar, and page after page after page of repetitive and cliched imagery could be strung together, sold to the masses, and rise to the top of the Times list. Holy cow . . . I’ve apparently been out of the popular fiction category for a long, long time.

I was talking to another friend who has read it and she said “I like good smut as much as the next middle-aged married woman, but I think the most disturbing thing is that it’s porn, bad porn, written on a 4th grade level. That’s just wrong.”

We joked I would title this post “See Dick and Jane F*&$.” But that’s just wrong, too, so I refrained.

I get how filmed porn turns out the way it does. But I guess I thought if you were going to the trouble to write porn, there’s an advantage to doing it well. I told Mr. Mom that to my way of thinking, a narrative template for porn that could be wildly successful involves a happy marriage, an attentive husband, AND sexual fireworks.  Maybe I should write that story and see if I can get as rich as James.

By the way, on my beside table right now in various stages of completion are:

  • In one person by John Irving (literary fiction)
  • The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (science non-fiction)
  • Griftopia by Matt Taibbi (non-fiction social criticism)
  • No impact man (non-fiction activism)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy: an experiential approach to behavior change by Hayes, Strosahl and Wilson (academic psychology text)

Add “50 Shades” to that pile and it’s pretty easy to figure out which one isn’t like the rest.

So, really, I shouldn’t even say a word. This book is out of my league.

But it did prompt a bit of soul-searching, which the best and worst of popular culture always does for me. Mostly my inner dialogue was something like “Really? This is how millions of women want to be entertained? No wonder my blog hits are so low. What happened to nobility and writing with the power to uplift and improve, as well as provoke? Where are our better angels?

This summer, it seems, they’re in the smut aisle.

With gratitude {for the real-life formula that beats contrived fiction any day},

Joan, who thinks maybe Mr. Mom is on to something when he asserted that 25% of males 50 and older suffer from ED so it’s no wonder 50 shades is a chart-topper

Surprise. You’re wonderful.

Dear Friends,

Last night I was holed up in our master bedroom getting caught up on work emails when our doorbell rang. And much to everyone’s surprise, this arrived for my son, Parker:

Photo by Instagram

He downplayed it, of course, but I think he was secretly excited. I mean, what 16-year-old boy wouldn’t be thrilled by the Exacta payoff of pizza AND a date? (Bonus points for any reader who knows what an Exacta is. My father is a horse better from way back and I know all sorts of gambling terms that might surprise you.)

As I helped myself to a slice of Parker’s invitation, I was reminded of two surprise gifts I received a long time ago, both of which made me swoon.

The first: I was 16 and it was Valentine’s Day. I liked a boy but we weren’t exactly dating. I was home with my sister and my mother doing absolutely nothing special when the doorbell rang, well after 8:00 pm. On our doorstep was a tired delivery boy from the local florist at the end of his long day with a dozen roses in a box. My sister — 10 years my senior — grabbed the box and unwrapped the roses while oohing and ahhing over them and guessing out loud which of her many suitors had sent them. Then she read the card, which said: Smile a little smile for me, Joan-Marie.

Yes, my given name is Joan-Marie (after both my grandmothers). And, yes, the boy who had stolen my heart also stole a line from a corny song by the Flying Machine. But as my sister’s wide smile instantly disappeared and she reluctantly and sadly handed the box to me, I didn’t care about my corny name or the corny sentiment. All that mattered was somebody I cared about thought I was wonderful.  And that’s a feeling a girl (or a boy) never forgets.

The second: I had just started dating Mr. Mom when one Sunday we decided on the spur of the moment to go to lunch at our favorite Mexican joint. Not only did we love the food at this particular place, I loved the free candy at the hostess’s station — Atomic Fireballs. Mr. Mom had introduced me to the insanely hot and addictive jawbreakers and we had gotten in the habit of picking up a couple every time we could. But on this particular day, the hostess was out of candy and we left empty-handed.

As Mr. Mom drove me back to my apartment, he made an unannounced stop at a Sam’s Club, saying, “I forgot, I have to pick something up here. I’ll be back in two minutes.” I sat patiently in his truck, assuming he was on an errand for his mother. When he came back to the truck, he smiled and said “Ah, they didn’t have what I needed, but I figured you could use one of these.” And with that, he handed me a jar of 144 individually wrapped Atomic Fireballs.

And let me just say I think it’s about the most romantic gesture ever directed my way. To this day, the man gets a free pass anytime he needs it because he surprised me with a gross of Atomic Fireballs when we were dating. I know it sounds crazy (what love affair isn’t in one respect or another?), but it was his Lloyd Dobbler moment. (Double bonus points for anyone who catches that reference from one of my favorite romantic comedies.)

With gratitude {for wild romantic gestures of all types at any age},

Joan-Marie, who used to cringe at her old-fashioned name but now thinks the hyphen is the mark of something special, sorta like Cindy Crawford’s beauty spot or Lauren Hutton’s gap-tooth smile